Since reaching the height of critical and commercial success after winning the Best Picture Oscar for 12 Years A Slave, Steve McQueen has reached such a high level of esteem that he’s given the artistic freedom to make the films he wants, with the backing of the wealthiest in the studio system. Such an immense production value feels a far cry from McQueen’s beginnings as an obscure underground video artist. Despite this, his films have never lost their artistic integrity whether that be in the aesthetic – the lingering shots, often after dramatic moments, bringing them into a greater sense normality, like a still life. The same can be said for the subject of narratives which, apart from Shame, all present a deeply human perspective through cultural discourse, whether that be the Irish Troubles in Hunger, the American Slave Trade in 12 Years a Slave and institutional racism and sexism confronted in Widows. Mangrove applies the same approach, but for the first time in his career, turns the magnifying glass on his home city of London.
Mangrove is the true story of the Mangrove 9, a group of West Indian Londoners were tried for inciting a riot after protesting repeated harassment from the Met Police. Though the case went in the favor of the Mangrove 9 and now stands as a key moment in Black British history, the trial itself caused a great deal of strain for those involved. The first installment of the series follows a cafe owner (Shaun Parkes) who, after being repeatedly harassed by the police, garners support from those in the community, including the local Black Panthers, prompting fear from the authorities. Their young lawyer, played by Jack Lowden, works with the Mangrove 9 in a trial that would come to stand as one of the turning points in confronting racial prejudice in the UK.
While the film explores the brutality and divisiveness of racial inequality, it also highlights the importance of community, and companionship – of solidarity in the face of injustice. And it couldn’t have come at a more pertinent point in history in an age of Trump, Brexit and most recently the Black Lives Matter movement in the US and around the world. Mangrove feels, though not McQueen’s finest work, is nonetheless an important film in our time.
Have a look at the trailer